For Hemant Soreng, organizing sustainability-focused travel and trekking experiences did not happen overnight. As a young boy, Hemant Soreng often travelled with his family to hill stations during the school holidays. After completing his MBA from IIMB in 1997, he formed eDeltaC, a digital marketing company that he started with his batchmate. Ogilvy & Mather, the ad agency, acquired eDeltaC in 2002 which subsequently formed the digital division of O&M. After working hard for many years, Hemant began to question the purpose of what he was doing and decided to be his own master. In 2010, he left the corporate industry and continued consulting for various corporates on digital marketing strategy and execution. This also gave him time to pursue his hobby – trekking and visiting places. He had more time to do 3-4 Himalayan treks every year with a small group of friends. During his trek to Annapurna in 2014, the drive to pursue something related to nature and trekking became very strong. He formed Rustik travel (https://www.rustiktravel.com/) in early 2016 that organizes sustainability-focused travel experiences. Sustainability meant creating livelihoods, protecting the environment, and preserving local culture. The customised global travel experiences range from adventure-based – trekking, biking, cycling, diving etc. to cultural, culinary, mindfulness and more. Hemant calls himself a social entrepreneur, digital professional, author, blogger, diver, mountaineer, Iron Man Triathlete, documentary filmmaker, podcaster, wilderness medicine first responder.
We caught up with Hemant to get some insights on his journey, experiences, and learnings.
The founding team comprises of Tapas Biala and Rajesh Nair. Tapas is a high-altitude mountaineer and has been climbing since the age of 10 years. He is an outdoor learning and adventure entrepreneur. He studied in the reputed Doon school where he learned to be an outdoor enthusiast. Rajesh is a traveller, a voice-over artist, podcaster, an insurance professional with over two decades of experience in various companies such as LIC, MetLife and Accenture in senior roles. He is a history buff, an expert on temple architecture and a passionate tour guide.
What are the different experiences you provide?
We offer a portfolio of different experiences. Many of our initiatives (many are non-commercial) reflect that philosophy:
1/ Documentaries & Short Films:
To create awareness about unique stories or highlight issues about a particular place or travel destination.
View them here> https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-985URwKCWv4MvhuofIXVQ
2/ The Rustik Travel Podcast:
It is a travel podcast with multiple shows that cover stories, journeys, interviews, conversations and experiences that are fun, adventurous, intriguing, interesting and inspiring, with a focus on sustainable and responsible travel.
This podcast is owned and produced by Rustik Travel, which will air only neutral and unbiased content relevant to travellers.
Do listen in> https://rustiktravel.com/podcast/
3/ Tours & Getaways:
Getaways and tours, including walking tours that we have started in India is an initiative to get like-minded people together to create meaningful content and experience to help preserve the city’s culture and ethos. Sustainability focused experiences are a key focus area for us.
Tour with us> https://www.rustiktravel.com/tours/
4/ Sustainable Treks:
Our treks help in re-skilling and employing the support staff from local villages. We are also planning to promote homestays as an option to camping, in villages that are in the trek route, thus giving an additional source of income to the household.
We have set out on a Mindfulness Journey. Led by the Monastics from Plum Village, France and along with like-minded spiritual souls, we have come together to create this unique cultural and spiritual experience in the form of a Mobile Monastery. These focused travel experiences are likely to relax the mind and body.
We intend to integrate physical and mental fitness through the practice of mindful walking and other mindfulness exercises while hiking in silent meditation through amazing spaces on Planet Earth. We journey together with a smile on our face as every step is intentional on the path of happiness.
The first in our mindful journey is the trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal Himalayas.
6/ UnTag – a responsible way to share wildlife pictures:
UnTag is an award-winning campaign that won four Abby Awards (top advertising awards in India) at the Goafest 2018. The focus of the campaign was the app that helps delete the GPS data from your pictures esp. that of the wildlife before sharing them online. By doing so, the poachers will not be able to determine the location of the animal through your pictures.
Untag the wildlife> https://www.rustiktravel.com/rustik-philosophy/untag/
Your top challenges
1/ Customer Acquisition:
The first customers are always hard to get. And it was, in the first couple of years. But thanks, to our good wishers, personal and professional network, not only we got the people travelling with us but also thanks to their positive reviews and word-of-mouth the customer base has grown over the years.
From a handful of customers and number of trips in single digits in the first year, we have come a long way with both increasing with each year.
We are a self-funded organisation that is profitable and sustains on revenues accrued. It has been a conscious decision not to opt for external funding to grow in an inorganic and fast manner. We believe that growing organically albeit slowly through initial and continuous struggle depending on customers and resulting revenues to sustain will only make us and the foundations stronger. This way, we will be able to build a robust and long-lasting organisation.
As part of our vision, we are also working on introducing related products and services to make a diversified portfolio that is aimed at hedging risks and driving growth.
Our partner ecosystem is being built, keeping in mind the most important attributes of this space – trust, relationship, and execution. And the main criteria as part of our philosophy is to work with the local partner and communities so that maximum benefits and impact reaches them.
Since the above-mentioned attributes are of paramount importance, therefore we are building these relationships slowly and steadily.
· Work with the resources that you have.
· Build the skills necessary for the business.
· Rustik started as a tech aggregator but realised that the real customer experience lay outside of technology. This triggered the to focus on real experiences. Tech is an enabler. Ask yourselves – What does the customer really want, and how can you deliver that experience?
· In the premium travel experience segment, word-of-mouth, and referrals matter. Digital marketing did not work for us.
Another venture that is into Himalayan treks is Indiahikes. We covered two other ventures that are into sustainable products and solutions – Desserto, a venture that makes artificial leather from plants and UrbanKisaan that promotes vertical and terrace hydroponic gardens.